2016 was a struggle for Koji Uehara, both in terms of injuries and effectiveness. The 41-year-old veteran reliever posted a 3.45 ERA over 47 innings, which was his highest ERA since his rookie year with the Orioles in 2009. Boston's acquisition of Craig Kimbrel as their closer and subsequent reassignment of Uehara to a setup role also resulted in a drastic decrease in saves, as Uehara failed to record at least 20 saves for the first time as a member of the Red Sox. Additionally, he missed all of August with a strained pectoral muscle. Now coming off a tough year that included durability issues, it appears clear that he is no longer the high-leverage closer-type pitcher that he once was. However, that didn't deter the Cubs from signing Uehara to a one-year deal over the offseason with the hope that he still has enough left in the tank to provide added depth to their bullpen.
Uehara agreed to terms on a one-year, $6 million contract with the Cubs on Wednesday, ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers reports. It was suggested last week that Uehara had reached a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Cubs, but he'll get more money that initially expected after several teams entered the derby for his services within the last few days. After posting a 3.45 ERA and 12.1 K/9 rate last season with the Red Sox, the 41-year-old should serve as one of the Cubs' key weapons against lefties. Despite being a right-hander, Uehara's repertoire has been historically tough against left-handed batters, who own a .183 career average against him.
Uehara signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs on Thursday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. Uehara ran into some troubles with the long ball in his final season in Boston, yielding 1.5 home runs per nine innings on the way to a 3.45 ERA, his worst season mark since his rookie year in 2009. Now 41 years old, Uehara has seen his velocity decline over the last few years and could be at the end of his tenure as an effective late-innings arm. He enters a deep Cubs bullpen with a clear closer in Wade Davis, so it's unlikely he gets a shot at a save anytime soon.
Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth to nail down the save in Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Yankees. He allowed a hit and struck out one. With Craig Kimbrel unavailable after notching a four-out save on Saturday, Uehara got the call to preserve a one-run lead in the ninth. The 41-year-old came through, yielding a two-out single to the red-hot Gary Sanchez before retiring Mark Teixeira to end the game. Uehara has now converted his last six save opportunities dating back to June 24, although he doesn't figure to get many chances with Kimbrel locking down the ninth inning for Boston.
Red Sox manager John Farrell wants to use Uehara in a few low-leverage situations before pitching him in tight games, Christopher Smith of Mass Live reports. Farrell had Uehara pitch the ninth inning of Friday night's 13-3 win over Toronto. It was his second appearance since coming off the DL, both coming in low-leverage situations. As a reliever capable of getting both left-handed and right-handed batters out consistently, Uehara is the ideal eighth-inning solution for Farrell, who has been unable to trust any member of the bullpen in tight spots the last month or so.
Uehara pitched a scoreless eighth inning, striking out two, in Boston's 7-2 win over San Diego on Wednesday. It wasn't exactly a high-leverage situation, but it was encouraging to see Uehara pitching effectively. Particularly when manager John Farrell has had several eighth-inning choices blow up on him the past month. Uehara's return gives the manager another arm he can confidently deploy in the eighth inning.